Race starts at 2:10 pm Japan time/1:10 pm Malaysian time

The 17th round of the 2018 Formula 1 World Championship will be the last one held in Asia this year and takes place this weekend at the legendary Suzuka Circuit in Japan. It’s the 34th Japanese Grand Prix, and the 30th to take place at Suzuka. The first ever Japanese GP was held at the Fuji Speedway in 1976 and it also hosted the second one a year later but dropped off the calendar for a decade. The race returned in 1987 at Suzuka and except for a brief spell at Fuji in 2007 and 2008, it has been staged at Suzuka each year since.

Today’s race will see both Mercedes-AMG cars starting from the front row, with Lewis Hamilton on pole position. Rain during qualifying compounded Ferrari’s errors, resulting in Sebastian Vettel managing to only get eighth place on the starting grid although team mate Kimi Raikkonen is at fourth.

“At the beginning of Q3, I was asked if it was ok for me to go out on Inters and I said ‘yes’. Obviously, it was the wrong decision and now it’s easy to say, but it could have been the other way around. We thought there could have been more rain, but in the end’ it didn’t come. If it had rained 5 minutes before, it would have been a different story. Tomorrow is another day, it won’t be easy as we start from the back, but it’s not impossible,” said Vettel after the qualifying session ended.

Victory in Russia for Hamilton means that the Mercedes driver starts in Japan with a commanding 50-point lead in the Drivers’ championship over Vettel. The German Ferrari driver will be hoping for a reversal of recent fortunes and his 4 previous wins in Suzuka will give him cause to believe that feat can be accomplished today.

Hamilton, though, has won 3 times at this track, while Mercedes-AMG, who extended their Constructors’ title lead over Ferrari to 53 points after Russia, can point to 4 straight hybrid era wins at this track.

Historically, Michael Schumacher is the most successful driver at the Japanese Grand Prix with 6 victories, the first one when he was with Benetton in 1995. Among the teams, McLaren has won the most times, 2 at the Fuji circuit and 7 at Suzuka.

The Japanese GP, though having unpredictable weather conditions that can even see a typhoon blowing in, is still a favourite of fans and F1 teams alike. Suzuka, which opened in 1962, is 5.8 kms long with an exacting layout which tests drivers and engineers in equal measure.

The figure-of-eight circuit features every kind of corner – from the precision required to perfectly thread a car through the first sector’s intricate ‘Esses’, where balance is at a premium, to the risk and reward nature of the braking zones for the Degner curves, and making the most of the long high-G arc of the Spoon Curve and the flat-out blast of 130R.

A flawless lap of Suzuka is one of the season’s great challenges for drivers as they race around 53 times. The circuit’s fast and flowing nature – especially through the ‘Esses’, where rapid changes of direction put the accent on good balance – makes finding the perfect set-up a tricky task.

Suzuka is also tough on tyres, with the many fast corners putting high lateral loads though the rubber. To cope with these demands, the teams can choose from medium, soft and supersoft compounds this weekend.

And of course, there’s rain to worry even though Typhoon Kong-rey is some distance away from the Japanese islands. In 2014, Typhoon Phanfone created such dangerous conditions that Jules Bianchi’s car aquaplaned and crashed into a recovery vehicle, the driver sustaining injuries that would see him passing away 9 months later.

[Chips Yap]

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